Climb aboard everyone! The historic field railway is waiting to take you on a tour of the Mildenberg brick park near Zehdenick in Brandenburg. Or join a guided tour and follow the procedures by which clay was turned into bricks during the last century. The brick moulder set off the process. Up until the 1920s he moulded the bricks on a long table in twin wooden moulds and left the blanks in the air to dry. After that packers, shovers and furnace setters loaded them into the kiln, firers ensured the correct temperature, and unloaders and packers offloaded the finished bricks onto the Havel boats bound for Berlin. All this is made vividly clear during the tour. There are other stopping points along the way: the powerful steam engine which drove the first automated brickworks in the region is still in operation, there are historic workshops with forges, locomotive fitters’ and joiners’ workshops dating back to 1900 and a brickworks from the time of the DDR (East Germany). Not forgetting the field railway museum, of course. There is a huge adventure playground for children and, whether they arrive on foot, by bike or the little rail trolley, nature-lovers can find plenty of opportunities to relax besides the many lakes which have been left in the vicinity by the clay pits.
Dusk. The cry of the Great Bittern resounds like a foghorn through the dying light. Fishermen are angling for pike and perch, swimmers are bathing in the clear water of the old clay pits, a beaver is building its lodge on the Havel. It is very difficult to believe that just a few decades ago dozens of ring kilns were spewing out black smoke from their chimneys and chain-and-bucket excavators were tearing up the earth to get at the coveted Zehdenick clay. It was only with the arrival of the railways in 1887 that it became possible to bring the rich deposits to the surface. A good two decades later Europe’s largest brick-making area had been created – with 57 ring kilns and an annual production of 625,000,000 wall bricks. The reason for this rapid development was the high quality of the local clay, the River Havel as a transport route and the building boom in the nearby capital of Berlin. Up to 5,000 workers laboured in the Zehdenick brick industry, many of them came from the Lippe region in North-Rhine Westphalia and later from Silesia. They lived in so-called brick makers’ garrisons, cut the clay with sharp spades in open pits and processed it in the brickworks. It was a seasonal job lasting from April to October: as long as it was possible to dry the bricks in the air before they were baked. The arrival of factories with artificial driers in the 1920s first freed the industry from its dependency on the weather. Around the same time chain-and-bucket excavators replaced the laborious work in the clay pits. Now the Mildenberg brick park contains two large listed brick works on the 42 hectare site, of which one was still in operation until 1991. The remaining ring kilns, machinery and other equipment all make up a fascinating museum linking the turbulent history of the regional brick-making industry with guided tours through the natural landscape of the Zehdenick lakes which are rich in plant and animal life. How far this clay cutters’ landscape has been shaped by human intervention is demonstrated by a short journey with the trolley railway to the modern open-cast clay pits.
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April to October: